Poor families’ hopes dashed as encroachments along Gujjar Nullah removed

Published February 9, 2021
Heavy machinery at work demolishing encroachments along the Gujjar Nullah in New Karachi on Monday as locals look on.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Heavy machinery at work demolishing encroachments along the Gujjar Nullah in New Karachi on Monday as locals look on.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: The people who live around Gujjar Nullah were hopeful that the little structures, which they call their home, would be spared again or that they would be granted another extension in Karachi Metropolitan Corpora­tion’s (KMC) work of broadening the usually choked storm-water drain infamous for flooding the entire city during monsoons.

But, alas, after giving them more time again and again, the men with orange vests and matching helmets finally arrived on Monday morning to remove what they referred to as ‘soft encroachments’ on either side of the drain.

The initial action gained strength in New Karachi, a place known also as the Zero Point bus stop. The dwellings all bore fresh red markings even after portions such as outhouses or sheds were demolished using just pickaxes and sledgehammers. One could clearly see the panic in the women’s eyes, fright in the children’s as all stood outside, watching from whatever part of their homes were still intact.

“They are razing our bathrooms and sheds to broaden the path alongside the drain. We’re sure they won’t leave it at that. It is being done to make way for their bulldozers obviously. We are bracing for more destruction,” said Mehran Gul, who also said that he has lived alongside the nullah for 40 years now.

‘If the roofs over our heads are snatched from us, where are we to go?’

“We have lease papers for our patch of land. We also took copies of our papers for verification to lawyers and they were cleared as genuine. And despite this these KMC people came here some two or three years ago also to cut 10 to 15 feet from our covered area. Now they are back to push us even further back,” he said.

Rahima Bibi, another resident of the area, whose bathroom was demolished on Monday was worried for the women in her family. “I’m an old widow. My little place only has four rooms. There was no room to build a bathroom in our small home so we constructed it at a few feet distance across the house. Now that it’s gone where are my young daughters and daughters-in-law going to go relieve themselves?” she said.

Qaiser Bibi, another poor woman there, said that she only moved to this part of the Gujjar Nullah 10 years ago. “I was foolish enough to believe the people who cut short our front covered area a few years ago. They said there won’t be any more cutting and we were well within our limits so I used up my savings to reinforce my house with cement and concrete. Now I find markings on my RCC construction, too,” she lamented.

“They are saying that they will return in 10 days, on February 18, for more anti-encroachment work. The children are asking us questions to which we don’t have answers. They ask where are we going to go if they bulldoze our entire home. We are telling them to pray that it doesn’t happen,” she said.

Both Rahima Bibi and Qaiser Bibi said that they also had lease papers for their respective properties but they lost the documents along with other valuables in last year’s rains. “The entire place was flooded and we don’t know what happened to the papers in all that chaos,” said Qaiser Bibi.

Ahmed Ali, a young man who also lives in the same line, said that he works in a bird shop. “We had been told that some action was expected today along the drain but we didn’t know what part as it is a very long drain. I was already feeling anxious and then my mobile phone rang. It was from home. I dropped everything to come running here,” he said.

“We have water, power, and gas connections. How can illegal homes have that? We regularly pay our bills. In fact, it takes out a chunk of our salaries. If the roofs over our heads are snatched from us, where are we to go? We have been looking for other options but we can’t afford to live on rent on our salaries. The rent for even a two-room house is Rs25,000. We are hand-to-mouth. We have no savings,” he said

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2021

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